The Advantages of Unstructured Time: Insight from Academic Field Trips

Friday 3:00pm-4:00pm TSU - Humphries: 118
Poster Session Part of Friday


Eric Goldfarb, The University of Texas at Austin
Kathy Ellins, The University of Texas at Austin
Academic field programs are an essential part of geoscience education. An often overlooked benefit of field trips is time not devoted to study. On a typical trip, students, faculty, and teaching assistants spend unstructured time during road trips, meals, and free time. Students can ask questions leading to a better understanding of their academics, interests, and their peers. Educators can learn about their students' interests and learning styles. This time can be fun and beneficial. Anecdotally, students in geoscience are socially closer to their peers and professors than in other types of sciences. Field trips significantly strengthen these bonds.

Field trips generally have leaders who are responsible for both logistics and education. For example, at our undergraduate field camp in the Jackson School of Geosciences, the teaching team of three faculty and three teaching assistants is responsible for student safety, meal logistics, site availability, as well as the curriculum.

A different model is used with our high school program, 'GeoFORCE', an outreach program for high achieving students. In this model, instruction is delivered by a team comprising of faculty and university students. A trip coordinator oversees safety and logistics, assisted by a trail driver, and undergraduate councilors.

At field camp, educators are more separated from students. Since they constantly remind students to show up on time, to dress for the weather, etc., they are seen as the "the boss", and are less approachable for non-academic exchange. In contrast, at GeoFORCE, the educators are not seen as "above" the students, but as learning facilitators. The educational team, freed from "managing" the students, can spend time for discussion and guidance.

Perhaps restructuring programs to have designated logistics coordinators instead of a larger education team could allow more learning to occur while counter intuitively freeing the time of educators for their students.